Safety Programs Save More Money Than They Cost
From Air Safety Week:
ORLANDO, Fla. - Mature safety programs effectively and diligently managed not only help prevent accidents and incidents, they also save money. This was the gospel of safety articulated at a workshop here by John Marshall, vice president of safety for Delta Air Lines [DAL].
In a sweeping overview of safety programs at Delta, Marshall and other management officials, as well as representatives of the Delta chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), outlined the carrier's successes, current challenges, and the major safety "threats" for this year.
Those challenges come after Delta completed a notable year in terms of safety. "In 2001, we had our best safety performance ever," Marshall declared. "It is particularly gratifying that we met our goals by such a wide margin," he added. Specific goals are established in each of four broad categories, which span accidents, incidents, ground damage and employee injuries. In every single one of these categories, Delta exceeded its goals for 2001, in some cases by a wide margin.
"We've flown about 550 million passengers since the last fatal accident. That is a phenomenal record," Marshall proclaimed. Moreover, the safety programs that were strengthened or put in place to provide the foundation programs that enabled this record to be achieved have yielded more than $21.8 million in cost savings last year, and more than $90 million in savings over the past three years. Marshall calculated the return on investment (ROI) at more than 160 percent.
"It is very clear that mature safety programs are not only preventing accidents and incidents, they are saving substantial sums of money," Marshall said.
Moreover, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have not changed Delta's investment strategy or its commitment to additional safety initiatives, Marshall insisted. Other conference attendees, notably members of ALPA's Master Executive Council (MEC) at Delta, believe the carrier needs to do more to implement an aviation safety action program (ASAP) of the type found at other major carriers. Marshall demurred, countering that other programs can yield greater safety benefit for the money. Moreover, he believes a careful watch must be maintained over what he perceived as the major "safety threats for 2002."
Despite threatening clouds ahead, Marshall and other Delta officials are confident the company has established a solid safety program on which to raise the proverbial safety bar even higher.
As an example, Delta completed 2001 with only 32 incidents, bettering the goal by 17 percent. Those 32 incidents were less than half the 78 incidents posted by the carrier three years ago. The final 2001 incident rate of .371 per 10,000 departures was "the best ever," Marshall said. The low incident rate, he added, is even more phenomenal in light of the number of daily operations. Delta has more than 2,000 daily flights, accumulating more than 10,000 flights in the space of a week.
However, the incident rate reflects a seasonal cycle, peaking during the winter holiday period and also during the beginning of summer flying. The peak during the November- January period seems to relate to high load factors, the beginning of winter operations, de-icing procedures, and so forth. Similarly, the advent of summer brings higher load factors driven by vacation travel.
Marshall would like to flatten out the seasonal peaks. "We want to stabilize the rate, contain flight incidents and thereby contain major losses," he explained.
Incidents include altitude deviations, wing and tail strikes, instances of in-flight smoke, cabin attendants injured during turbulence, and so forth
The smoke events are particularly galling. "We continue to be challenged by our MD-88 fleet," Marshall confessed. Fluid leaks penetrate into the air conditioning system, leading to smoke in the cabin. "It's not a life-threatening situation, but it unnerves the passengers," he said.
While the company is beating its own goals for reducing employee injuries, Marshall maintained that more needs to be done. Some 5,000 Delta employees were hurt on the job last year, so more clearly must be done than beating the number of recordable cases by nine percent. Construction workers and loggers are some 20 percent less likely to be injured on the job, he pointed out.
Much ground damage was prevented simply be preventing baggage carts from being driven under aircraft. This stratagem "cut ground damage by 15 percent," Marshall said.
Similar gains are being made on the maintenance side. Ray Valekia, Delta's senior vice president of technical operations, noted proudly that on April 9, with some 550 airplanes in operation, there were just 175 open items on the minimum equipment list (MEL). The open MEL rate is a key measure of the rigor of a carrier's maintenance effort. Last year at this time, the number of open MELs was around 500, Valekia recalled. Increasing the "touch time" on about five more airplanes per day has helped to make the difference, he added. Some older airplanes have been retired, and newer airplanes tend to have fewer open MELs.
Driving down the open MEL rate is key to increasing safety and fleet reliability. When airplanes start accumulating more than one open MEL, there tends to be "a buildup to a grounding item," Valekia said. "With less than one open MEL per airplane, on average, you have a lot more flexibility."
These accomplishments notwithstanding, Delta officials are facing a range of challenges. Marshall fretted that the carrier has posted eight incidents to date. "We're not doing as well this year," he confessed. A runway incursion occurred at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) March 22. Fourteen passengers were injured during an emergency evacuation March 31. During this event, the R1 escape slide inflated inside the airplane. On an April 9 B767 flight from Atlanta to Milan, an auxiliary power unit (APU) door separated in flight.
Incidents of smoke in the cabin involving the carrier's MD-88 aircraft are "driving us nuts," Valekia said. The number of such events has been cut in half but nonetheless is running at the rate of some 25 smoke incidents per month. Detailed write-ups from the crews "are critical" to locate and fix the problems, Valekia said.
A rash of false warnings on the predictive windshear systems also is a problem. The number of false alerts is causing pilots to lose confidence in the system.
A plague of cracked guide vanes in the carrier's Pratt & Whitney [UTX] 2037-series engines also is a point of major concern. Some 5,000 borescope inspections have been done, and after extensive analysis Valekia said the cracking seems to be aggravated by running the engine at 12,500 rpm, which coincides with engine speed for reduced thrust-takeoffs. The paradox, of course, is that engine reliability seems to be hurt by operating the engine at a power setting intended to improve longevity. At any rate, Delta is modifying the engines at the rate of about 10 per month. At this rate, Valekia said, "It'll take us about one and a half years to work our way out of the problem.
Meanwhile, a number of safety initiatives are in various states of play. An internal safety audit program was begun this year.
More aircraft, particularly those assigned to South American routes, are being equipped with satellite communications (SATCOM).
Crew operational reports (CORs) are managed under four separate programs. Communications among various departments need to be better integrated, Marshall said. As an example, not everyone got word of a new policy, effective April 15, that a public address (PA) announcement must be made whenever the seatbelt sign is turned on in the cockpit. Delta is expanding its flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) program. Some 202 of the 550 planes it is operating presently are FOQA-equipped with the quick access recorders (QARs) and related software/hardware. In coming months 102 additional aircraft will be added to the FOQA program. This effort will expand Delta's FOQA program to approximate the more established level of effort at United Airlines [UAL]. The carrier, too, is under daunting budget pressure. Regarding FOQA, however, "There is no sense of retreating from this at all, said Capt. Hank Krakowski, United's vice president of corporate safety, security and quality assurance. Data gleaned from the program is credited with preventing a potentially catastrophic over-ocean engine failure on one of the carrier's ETOPS-certified (extended twin engine operations) B777s.
Delta's program is operating with a very lean level of staffing. As an example, Delta is operating its FOQA program with two analysts per 200 aircraft. "The normal European model suggests an analyst for every 25-50 aircraft," said First Officer Jim Shaw, one of Delta's FOQA program managers.
Marshall agreed that "we're overtaxing our analysts. Additional staff, computers, office space and software are being added so that the huge volume of FOQA data does not become an unanalyzed "data morgue."
The planned launch of an aviation safety action program (ASAP) has been deferred. The severe economic downturn caused by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, wiped money for ASAP out of the budget.
"I have to defer that," Marshall said, saying, "I don't have" $700,000 for needed analytical software. He added, "I don't see the kind of payback in ASAP that we're getting from FOQA."
Others disagreed. They countered that FOQA data may show what happened, but crew reports through ASAP would illuminate why an event occurred. The FOQA/ASAP relationship as akin to flight data and cockpit voice recorders (FDR/CVR), the "black boxes" used to reconstruct the sequence of events in accident investigations. The FDR readout reveals much in the way of engine, flight control and systems performance, but it is the cockpit voice recording that puts the data in context for a much deeper and more contextual understanding of the sequence of events.
"ASAP tells us the story behind the empirical [FOQA] data," said First Officer Michael Michaelis, who flies for American Airlines [AMR]. American's ASAP program is now in its eighth year. "The initial cost is high at all carriers," he said by way of acknowledging Marshall's funding problem. At American, the program's annual cost runs in the range of $1.0-$1.2 million, Michaelis said. He is convinced, nevertheless, that ASAP saves money. "At Miami, guys were pulling up the gate and cargo doors where being opened before engine shutdown." The practice, reported via ASAP and since curtailed, represented a prime threat of foreign object damage (FOD), Michaelis recounted. In addition, ASAP reports help identify problems with systems while they are still under warranty, which saves the carrier money.
Capt. Bill Minkoff, a Delta B767 line check pilot and an ardent advocate for ASAP as a necessary adjunct to FOQA, explained that "neither an altitude bust nor a runway incursion will be picked up by FOQA data." An ASAP program is needed, he asserted, "to increase awareness of trends."
"With pilots self-reporting, the company gets a lot more information," Minkoff maintained.
ASAP was supposed to have been on line at Delta this past September, but when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred and all airlines, Delta included, were hemorrhaging money, a decision was made to suspend all new expenditures. ASAP was one of these planned new expenditures, Minkoff recalled.
Marshall characterized a number of issues as "safety threats for 2002." They include:
Runway incursions. "This is an industry problem. Runway incursions continue to be the biggest challenge we face in terms of potential catastrophic loss of life," he said. Strobe lights on the aircraft, such as those installed on Southwest Airlines' [LUV] jets are being considered as one means of mitigating runway incursions. The strobe lights would make the jets more visible.
CFIT (controlled flight into terrain). This type of accident is especially feared in Central and South America, where ground-based radar coverage is a fraction of the U.S. A Cali "look alike" accident is the prime concern, or a repeat of the fatal CFIT crash of an American Airlines jet on a mountain ridge near Cali, Colombia, in 1995.
Near mid-air collisions. A large number of TCAS (traffic alert collision avoidance system) resolution advisories (RAs) is an item of concern.
Aircraft wiring. "We have issues, especially as our aircraft get older," Marshall advised.
"Look alike parts." Marshall explained that two parts that superficially look identical actually carry separate part numbers. Management of this problem continues to be a challenge.
Unstabilized approaches. The carrier has experienced four tailstrikes this year, and this damage is more likely to occur as a consequence of unstabilized approaches. For example, the FOQA readout and computer simulation of a March 1 unstabilized approach at Bozeman, Mont., showed that the nose of the aircraft was never lined up with the runway centerline. The details of the event were revealed by FOQA data. A computerized animation of the approach and landing based on that data vividly illustrated the untabilized nature of this approach. The insights gleaned underscore the merit of decisions already made to strengthen the company's FOQA program. "We have a limited ability to mine the FOQA data, and we can do much more," Minkoff said.
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